The festival of Cinco de Mayo, celebrated today in the United States and Mexico, dates back to a particular battle during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).
The Mexican government was left in significant debt after decades of conflict, and were unable to pay back money they owed to other countries. In response, England, France and Spain sent forces to demand repayments.
Mexico were able to negotiate with England and Spain, whose armies withdrew from the country soon after. The French, however, remained and used the opportunity to try and create an empire in central America. They invaded Veracruz and drove out the Mexican government.
On this day in 1862, a small force of locals – many of whom were ill-equipped and not trained soldiers – fought back against thousands of French troops at Puebla, a small town in central Mexico. The battle lasted all day and resulted in a victory for the Mexicans after the French army retreated. They had sustained many more casualties, despite being highly trained and vastly outnumbering the locals.
Whilst it was not a major strategic conflict of the war, the David and Goliath nature of the triumph at Puebla raised Mexican morale and bolstered the resistance movement.
The war itself was eventually won five years later after many clashes. After the end of their own civil war, the United States sent in military support to back their neighbours and the French finally withdrew.
Cinco de Mayo is more widely observed across the United States than it is in Mexico. Although military parades, reenactments of the battle and other festivities do take place, they do so mainly in the state of Puebla where the battle occurred.
In the USA meanwhile, the day is also used to celebrate Mexican culture, with parades and parties involving traditional music, dances and food.